The electrophysiologic effects of high concentrations of the opioid agonists, fentanyl and sufentanil, on isolated canine cardiac Purkinje fibers were studied. Changes in action potential parameters were examined at the following concentrations: fentanyl 94.6 nM, 0.19 microM, and 0.95 microM; sufentanil 8.6 nM, 86.4 nM, 0.17 microM, and 0.26 microM. Naloxone 5.5 microM was administered after maximal changes were induced by fentanyl in order to explore the possibility of an opioid receptor interaction. Action potential parameters measured were Vmax of phase 0, amplitude, overshoot, maximum diastolic potential, action potential duration at 50%, and 90% repolarization and membrane responsiveness. Fentanyl 0.19 microM and sufentanil-0.17 microM caused a significant lengthening of action potential duration at 50 and 90% repolarization, 6.4% and 7.3%, and 10.2% and 12.4%, respectively, P less than 0.05. Other action potential parameters were not significantly affected by the opioids. Naloxone 5.5 microM alone did not alter action potential characteristics and failed to reverse action potential prolongation produced by fentanyl. The authors suggest that fentanyl and sufentanil prolong action potential duration in canine cardiac Purkinje fibers via direct membrane actions.